Smithsonian Banners – I Want the Wide American Earth (TMAS 6)

Tell Me a Story 6 – Smithsonian Banners – I Want the the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story

Years ago, I sat in a room with professors and writers at a small Asian American Smithsonian office in Washington DC. Our job was to work on a series of banners that would describe the Asian American experience. The banners would then possibly travel to exhibitions, schools and maybe more.

It was two full days of discussing possible topics and detailed content that would lay the framework of each banner. It was a starting point which often included tons of forgotten history. I remember clearly, one of the professors said although Carlos Buloson has name recognition, “Larry  Itliong was the shit.” I quietly thought, “who?”

Historical events and dates were thrown around like no big deal – the exact  things they taught to university students. I couldn’t compete. Yet, the broad strokes and ideas of what might work in an exhibition that can educate a middle American family? That’s close to what I do.

The days were moderated by new Asian American department head, Konrad Ng and they were difficult. By end, we came out of the room with a carefully nit-picked draft of a narrative. We still weren’t done. There were holes here and there, and the end product would be in the hands of the Smithsonian.

Years have passed and the project is now on the walls at the Japanese American National Museum. Seeing parts of the banners for the first time brings back the voices from the discussions. Some of the items made it and some didn’t. Some people who were current a few years ago are now outdated, with new faces filling in their spaces. Some of these new faces performed at the opening night reception while many future faces watched. The Wide American Earth? It’s moving.

A close up of a banner.